With a pair of headphones included in the box of every new smartphone or other music-playing device, do you ever need to buy any at all? Yes, of course you do. But the question is, when?
Moment #1: The minute you buy a new device.
You’ve purchased your new device, and you’ve noticed there are some headphones in the box, probably sealed in a little plastic bag. Leave them there. The headphones which come
packed in with any new device (yes, even an Apple device) are usually terrible.
About £15 will get you great in-ear upgrade that will instantly improve the quality of your playback. At this price point, you’ll notice improved bass performance, a greater degree of channel separation, and an increased level of detail. These ‘phones tend to be sturdier, have larger drivers for more accurate sound reproduction, and may even include an in-line volume control or microphone.
A Great Choice:
The Panasonic RPTCM125A in-ears have an excellent balanced sound which works well with all genres, from classical to rock and everything in-between. They sell currently for about £7, an absolute steal for a quality step up from your pack-in phones. They even include a one-button remote and mic.
Moment #2: When you’re ready to take it to the next level.
Perhaps you’ve realized you spend much more time sat at your desk listening to music than on the move. Or maybe you’ve just gotten to the stage where the quality of your sound is a more important to you. Either way, you’re interested to see what your music collection sounds like on a “proper” set of cans.
For about £75, a capable set of over-ear monitors will put your music collection into perspective. This class of headphone is designed specifically with the professional recordist in mind, so the sound you hear will be a much truer representation of how your music was intended to sound. At this price range, you will start to notice detail in your music you hadn’t noticed before. The sound will be deeper and more powerful, with an expanded soundstage. A good pair in this price range will be like listening to premium speakers in a quiet room.
A Great Choice:
Coming in around mid-point of Audio-Technica’s respected range of professional studio monitors, the ATH-M40x headphones are large and cumbersome, but feel well built and fit most head sizes comfortably. These ‘phones have a phenomenal soundstage for the money (currently around £75). The treble sounds clear and bright, a slight emphasis on bass keeps the low-end punchy, and the mids are never lost in the mix.
Moment #3: When you want to know how good music can really sound.
You’ve enjoyed the extra layer of detail your studio monitors have introduced, but you’ve moved on. You want more. Maybe you’ve started to re-encode your music collection at a higher bit rate. Higher-quality headphones show the frailties in those low-quality tracks, and to your now well-trained ears, they’re starting to sound flat and lifeless. You’ve even bought yourself a headphone amplifier to push the quality of your sound.
But you can’t help but wonder if your new lossless audio tracks could sound evenbetter. And the truth is, they can. For £200, you can buy a set of true audiophile headphones that step the game up yet further. In this price bracket, you’ll find some of your most beloved tracks are transformed entirely. Whereas a £75 set of headphones may sound like a good set of speakers, a good pair in the £200 range will sound like the artists are performing right there in the room with you.
A Great Choice:
The M4U 1 over-ears by PSB (now about £189) are an incredible pair of headphones. They’re not light, and are bulky enough that you’re not going to want to do much walking around in them, despite the handy in-line one-button remote and microphone; but the supreme comfort of the fit more than makes up for this.
Needless to say, the sound is amazing. These headphones truly do excel with every type of music. Vocals are pure, with every syllable clear and defined. Previously unheard nuance is exposed in even the most complex instrumental arrangements. Bass is deep and affecting without muddying the mid-range.
Yes, you can step up even higher. If you’re willing to pay the price, the sky is the limit when deciding on a pair of audiophile headphones. By the third upgrade, you will have a truly wonderful set of headphones to be proud of, and most importantly, to present your music the way it was meant to be heard.